9 to 5’s Ellen Cassedy joins AFSCME in celebrating Women’s History Month

9 to 5’s  joins AFSCME in celebrating Women’s History Month

Ellen Cassedy

Before “9 to 5” became a box-office hit, it was a workplace feminist movement led by working women.

One of the co-founders of the 9 to 5 movement was Ellen Cassedy, who joined AFSCME on Monday for a virtual event. She recalled the movement’s growth and expansion from its beginnings in 1972 until the present day, as it continues to be active across the country.

She recalled when Jane Fonda, one of the eventual stars of the 1980 comedy film, came to meet with many of the movement’s leaders as she was exploring the idea for the movie.

“They popped a question we had never thought to ask at all those recruitment lunches, which was: Have you ever fantasized about doing in your boss?” Cassedy said. “There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the room exploded because it turned out that everybody had. And all those fantasies went right into the script.”

The result was a hilarious comedy in which three secretaries – played by Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton – live out their fantasies of getting back at their autocratic, misogynistic and egotistical boss, played by Dabney Coleman. Part of the reason the film resonated so widely was that it seemed to perfectly capture the daily indignities and harassment that so many working women of the time suffered at the hands of their male bosses.

Cassedy is also the author of “Working 9 to 5: A Women’s Movement, a Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie,” which tells the story of the movement she co-founded with Karen Nussbaum. The 9 to 5 movement helped transform the workplace, though much remains to be done.

“Issues that used to be considered individual matters are now matters of policy,” Cassedy said. “Corporate policy. Government policy. Union policy. Pregnancy discrimination is illegal today. Sexual harassment is illegal. We have the Family and Medical Leave Act. We don’t have help wanted male and help wanted female ads in the newspapers anymore.”

In other ways, “it can be harder to be a worker today than it was 50 years ago,” she said. “The good news is the new wave of labor organizing among retail workers, baristas, fast food workers, warehouse workers, tech workers, child care and home care workers, domestic workers, graduate students and congressional aides. Support for unions is at its highest levels in two generations, and we’re hearing new voices and seeing new tactics.”

The event was moderated by AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride and is part of our union’s celebration of Women’s History Month, which celebrates the contributions and specific achievements women have made to the United States and over the course of our history in a variety of fields.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders, in introducing Cassedy, said the 9 to 5 movement leaders inspired a generation of activists.

“The Fight for 15, Me Too, and the Women’s March – all of them have their roots in the work of Ellen Cassedy and 9 to 5,” he said.

“It is my deepest hope that my granddaughter, who will be born this spring of 2023, will enter a workforce a few decades from now that welcomes and celebrates the contributions of women in every possible way,” Saunders added. “And when she does, I will remind her of the sacrifice of our guest speaker. I will tell her that she stands on the shoulders of pioneers like Ellen Cassedy.”